Eating poison ivy to gain immunity?

Discussion in 'Bush Medicine' started by Andy, Feb 3, 2009.

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  1. Andy

    Andy Scout

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    Has anyone tried eating poison ivy (or other urushiol-containing plants) to gain temporary immunity to them?

    (And, Did you survive? ;))

    This approach is described in Wilderness Way magazine:

    http://www.wwmag.net/pivy.htm

     
  2. IA Woodsman

    IA Woodsman Overwatch Moderator Staff Member Super Moderator Vendor Bushclass Instructor

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    That sounds like a bad idea to me. Since your mouth is so vascular I would think the toxins would be absorbed pretty quick. I'm no doc, but I would think you could run the risk of having a localized reaction in you mouth which could lead to the swelling of the tissues. In other words closing your airway, which is generally bad. But, maybe Randell Jones is a really smart guy and he is on to something.
     
  3. Oblio13

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    I've been doing this every year since I was a kid and read about it in one of Euell Gibbons' books. Seems to work, I've only gotten very mild cases of it since. A physician friend of mine is appalled by the practice, though. He says it could cause a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction.
     
  4. Oblio13

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    I did an internet search and came up with these tidbits, in no order and with no idea how valid any of them are:

    "You know what poison ivy does to your skin. Can you imagine what it does to your internal organs? Eating poison ivy can be fatal. ..."

    " Severe cases, especially those involving mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, etc.) require medical attention.... As with many allergens, a severe reaction can be fatal if left untreated."

    "There is anecdotal evidence of people desensitizing themselves to poison ivy by eating poison ivy leaves, first starting with a tiny amount and then gradually increasing the dosage until a maintenance level is reached. The most common side effect of this treatment, however, is getting the rash where the urushiol passes out of your body. It is also possible to have symptoms internally. Similar treatments in pill form can be obtained from a doctor or dermatologist, but have the same unpleasant side effects. No other immunization appears to be available at this time."

    "A superstitious story recommends eating poison ivy or rubbing it on the skin as a sort of immunization. Such a practice is not advised; it could result in a fatal reaction."

    "For many years, folk wisdom has held that one may gain immunity to poison ivy by eating the leaves of the plant, a practice that is foolish and extremely hazardous. Nevertheless, compounding pharmacies advertise the availability of an oral poison ivy solution developed from a German formulation, described as "Rhus Tox Oral Solution."

    "... if you're determined to become resistant to something unpleasant, you could always start with poison ivy. The active ingredient in poison ivy (as well as in poison oak and sumac) is the chemical urushiol, a nasty and persistent oil contained in almost every part of the plant; contact with this stuff produces a serious allergic reaction in about 85 percent of the populace."

    "... And as difficult as it may be to imagine doing, outdoors types have long advocated eating poison ivy leaves, in small amounts, as a way of building up one's urushiol tolerance; Euell Gibbons recommends the practice in his foraging guide Stalking the Wild Asparagus. Does it work? Dermatological testing says yes — ingesting urushiol made subjects less likely to break out in a rash following skin contact. The benefits decrease fairly quickly over time, so you have to keep up with it, and one noted side effect is pruritus ani, also known as itchy ass syndrome. You can also develop urushiol resistance via injections, or through occupational exposure ..."

    "Myth: Eating poison ivy leaves can make you immune. Fact: Eating poison ivy is inviting reactions in the mouth, throat and anus. 'Nuff said? ..."

    "Eating poison ivy was the best idea I ever found in a Euell Gibbons book, though others who have tried it call it one of the worst."

    "I must share something that has helped me tremendously. An elderly neighbor told me how to get rid of poison ivy, of which I had known the horrors of. She said to me, the old timers would pick a leaf of the plant each spring and eat it. I now pick a small leaf and eat it each spring, and I can pick wild blackberries with my hands all in the poison ivy and never have a reaction. Most folks are scared of this when I tell them, but blessed be my neighbor, it works for me.
    By Rexe from Junction City, Arkansas

    Editor's Note: Warning! Eating poison ivy can be very dangerous and can cause shock and severe breathing problems. Advice similar to Rexe's can be found all over the internet and in some cases, this may be an effective way to increase your immunity to poison ivy. But I would strongly recommend against trying this approach."

    "Every year when I was a kid, my brother and I would eat poison ivy (I'm not kidding). My mothers mother (who died when I was a toddler) was Kiowa. Their family ate poison ivy (as a preventive measure)."

    "I worked with a man that would start eating one poison oak leaf per day, starting in July. He would do this in preparation for his August hunting trips. He claimed his reaction to poison oak was minimized by the daily doses of the toxin."

    "Immunity not conferred by eating any plant part;
    ingestion can cause serious gastric disturbance."

    "One every day in the month of May."

    "If someone happens to eat poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, he or she should seek medical attention immediately."

    From an interview of Euell Gibbons by Mother Earth News magazine: "GIBBONS: There is. Let me give you an example. I wrote in my first book about eating poison ivy leaves to gain immunity to the plant. I eat three of the tiny little leaves—that's one leaf with three little leaflets—when they're still red. "One every day in the month of May."

    I've never had the slightest ill effect from eating those leaves and, since I've been doing it, I've never gotten poison ivy during the summer. I sometimes get it on my fingers in the early spring when I dig sassafras roots or something before I've eaten the leaves . . . but I no longer contract the ailment in the summer.

    Now, although this old folk remedy works for me, I made it very plain in my book that I don't consider this a safe and settled scientific practice. I merely told the truth about observations on myself and other people who turned me onto the practice. Still, people—including Kingsbury, author of POISONOUS PLANTS IN THE U.S. AND CANADA —have written telling me my poison ivy experiment is dangerous because some individuals are extra-sensitive to the plant.

    Kingsbury said that I should not have published the information at all so I wrote back and told him that every drugstore in this state—and in most states where there's poison ivy—sells pills against it . . . and those pills are nothing more than poison ivy extract. They're made from the poison ivy plant, they're taken to grant immunity and it says right on the box that if you start to to break out in a rush you should immediately stop taking the the pills and see a doctor. I told Kingsbury that I was doing exactly the same thing, only I was going out and gathering my medicine instead of buying it over a drugstore counter. He wrote back the most condescending, patronizing letter you ever saw in your life. He said, "Mr. Gibbons, you apparently do not understand that this immunity pill is never given to people until they're first tested for sensitivity."

    I got up and walked right downtown and three drugstores in a row sold that medicine to me. All three recommended that I take it. So I wrote back to Mr. Kingsbury and told him, "You're completely misinformed if you think everybody has to have a sensitivity test to get these pills. They're sold over the counter, no questions asked. I'll bet what's bothering you isn't the danger of what I'm doing. You're bothered because I'm going out and getting a wild plant for nothing, putting it in my mouth and eating it. You somehow feel protected if somebody is processing it, packaging it and selling it at a huge profit. Because you're brainwashed." And that's exactly where I stand."

    This one from WebMD has serious implications for all us berry-pickin' bushcrafters: "The old folk tale about eating poison ivy leaves to make yourself immune is just that -- a myth. Never eat the leaves or berries of wild plants, many of which can cause dangerous reactions."
     
  5. Ripmyfly

    Ripmyfly Guide

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    I know that if you burn a pile of brush that has it in it & my Dad is w/in 30 miles(somewhat j/k here) he gets it in his throat & lungs. Can you imagine poison ivy outbreak in the lungs? I on the other hand weed-eat bunches of the stuff every summer & have never had a outbreak.
     
  6. sbkittrell

    sbkittrell Guide

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    That's interesting but I'm not going to try it. I WILL try eating mosquitoes this spring to see if I can develop a resistance to them. Maybe if I eat enough of them they'll think I'm a huge mosquito and leave me the hell alone. If it works I'll start in on deer flies, which I hate and despise even more than mosquitoes, but not quite as much as noseeums and greenhead flies.
     
  7. Trekon86

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    Don't eat mosquitoes, they could be carrying a virus or some such.
    Eating anything poisonous is generally a bad idea, especially toxins which can cause an anaphylactic reaction.
    PMZ
     
  8. Giguere

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    Nope. Can't say I've ate it mate. Never really needed to. I have a -really- high tolerance of that stuff. I can walk right through BUSHES of it in shorts and not get bothered. All in the draw I 'spose.
     
  9. buroak

    buroak Guide Bushclass I

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    I would never eat poison ivy for any reason. I have never gotten poison ivy so there would not be a reason for me to eat it. Would eating it hurt me since I don’t get it on my skin? Maybe not but that is an experiment I am not going to try. I have a feeling that if you get poison ivy, you will always get it no matter what you do. If you don’t get it, you probably will never get it. It just has to do with the make up of each individual persons body.
     
  10. Oblio13

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    I've done some more Googling, and despite the uncountable anecdotal accounts, I can't find a single news article or name of anyone who's ever died or even gotten ill from eating poison ivy. I can find actual news articles with names of people who've been killed by baseballs, golfballs, ostriches, dentists, sex with horses, a falling cactus, swallowing a toothpick and drinking too much water, but none about poison ivy.


    This spring I'll do it as usual, but I'll try to be a little more scientific. I'll rub some on my arm before I eat it to see what happens, and I'll do the same later in the summer. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 4, 2009
  11. GreyOne

    GreyOne Elder Lifetime Supporter

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    For those who know they are not very sensitive, or consider themselves immune, be aware that can change very suddenly and drastically. Never _depend_ on immunity.
     
  12. Trekon86

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    Yeah G1's right, my grandpa alton rips up poison ivy with his bare hands and never a blister, but my mother got it for the first time in her life in the summer of her 40th year, it was very strange, but very bad!
    PMZ
     
  13. DavidEnoch

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    I am super alergic to poison ivy and poison oak

    When I get poison ivy, it starts eating a hole in me. It usually takes at least 3 months for a sore to heal. And, I do not scratch it at all. My doctor said it wipes out my immunity. The last time I got it bad, my doctor said that with my immunity wiped out, I was likely to get sick. Two days later I was back with pneumonia.

    Poison Ivy limits my adventures in the woods. It's one of those things that's too bad to risk.

    David Enoch
     
  14. Eagle

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    Try at ur own risk; not me

    Personally I would not stake my health on what can be "Googled "......
    but u may find this of interest:

    http://www.amazon.com/Oral-Ivy-Liqu...dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1

    :eek::D
     
  15. Pict

    Pict Guide

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    I have heard of this practice but never tried it nor do I know anyone who has. So that is an official "No Comment" from me.

    I will say that ever since being turned on to Jewel Weed as a kid I haven't suffered from Poison Ivy since. Jewel Weed is a very common plant and easy to identify. You simply crush the stem and rub the juice on the rash or anyplace you might have been exposed to poison ivy. It really works well for me, the fresh juice stops the rash right away. Mac

    Jewel Weed Link
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2009
  16. GreyOne

    GreyOne Elder Lifetime Supporter

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    After 60 years of being immune to poison ivy, two weeks ago I cut some down near my porch. Used a machete, and tried not to actually handle the stuff My left (cutting hand) arm from the elbow down, and my left neck and cheek broke out two days later. Nine days later, I am still using benadryl and cortisone on it, and looks like another 3-5 days before it may clear on up.

    Not a pleasant development, as I have never been discomfited in the slightest in years past.
     
  17. Iz

    Iz MEMBER of a BANNED Bushclass I Bushclass Instructor

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    G1,
    If you have a localized reaction, this stuff works wonders. It actually works as advertised. I've had localized reactions that went away within 24 hrs of using it. This is coming from a guy who gets pi so bad it's close to hospitalization for me.
    It doesn't work real well on a systemic reaction though because it's in your blood stream.
    The only downside is that it's 40 bucks an ounce. But that ounce goes a long way and if I'm itching bad enough I'll pay whatever it costs.
    Later,
    Iz
     
  18. GreyOne

    GreyOne Elder Lifetime Supporter

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    Yes, this is pretty localized. That looks interesting, may get some next time I get by a pharmacy. They did not have it out at the Walgreens I went to last week- looked pretty carefully and settled for the benadryl gel, based on past experience with it and Caladryl.
     
  19. abo4ster

    abo4ster Banned Member Banned

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    The dosage I would do is one small new growth leaf once a week for nine weeks at the beginning of the season. As long as you don't touch it with your external skin there is not a problem in your mouth or digestive tract as the saliva neutralizes the oil.

    Theory is that as long as you don't get poison ivy during that nine week period, you will be immune for the year, therefore you start it again next year.

    I never had any issues or the several people I am aquainted with who do the practice.

    After some deep thought, I stopped the practice a couple of years ago. The reason is, I can't say with certainty it works. I got poison ivy as a child, but haven't had it twenty years. I hypothesize that I am either currently immune or not, regardless if I eat the plant or not. However, if I get it this year, I will probably start again.

    Not the most enlightening post on my part, I guess the point I want to make is there is not hard evidence out there it works or doesn't.
     
  20. RockScout

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    Interesting stuff. I trust that Euell did a lot of ethnobotanical research before trying and publishing this. The only times I've know him to be wrong he erred on the side of caution. (Milkweed does NOT have to be boiled in three changes of water!) But I'm sticking with Jewel Weed. If I walk through a bunch of poison ivy then I'll grab a bunch of jewel weed and scrub in the creek. In my parts it would be rare to find poison ivy that wasn't right handy to the JW and some running water.
     
  21. Adam B

    Adam B Guide

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    If you're right about this, then you should be able to rub spit over the exposed area much like others say to do for jewelweed and that would prevent the outbreak.
     
  22. Iz

    Iz MEMBER of a BANNED Bushclass I Bushclass Instructor

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    Exactly. I'm not saying that info isn't correct but it's one of those trust but verify things. I'm thinking saliva has no neutralizing capabilities of urishol that I've ever heard. No offense abo4ster, but that seems a little sketchy to me.
     
  23. abo4ster

    abo4ster Banned Member Banned

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    No offense taken, your point is rationale. My reference to the saliva came from a friend whose degree is in chemisty/pre-med and does this practice. All I can do is reiterate my experience; have never had an issue eating poison ivy and I know six people that do and have been in the prescence of two of them eating it when I was. As fore mentioned, I have also seen absolutely no documentation that anyone has had a medical issue digesting it, and I have looked.

    Out of curiosity, does anyone know if the immunization pills (which contain poison ivy extract) being sold are regulated by the FDA?
     
  24. Iz

    Iz MEMBER of a BANNED Bushclass I Bushclass Instructor

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    Ab,
    I don't know about the pills. But I remember when I was a kid I'd get a series of immunization shots. One a week for five weeks or something along that lines. I got 'em for a couple of years until they took 'em off the market. I never heard why though. I believe they had some extract in them. I can't say as they worked or didn't work honestly, at the time I had no idea what poison ivy looked like so I don't know if I was exposed to it.:eek:
    Later,
    Iz
     
  25. Adam B

    Adam B Guide

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    The FDA has no jurisdiction over herbal preparations, so my guess is that the answer to this is no, the FDA doesn't regulate them.

    There really is considerable immunology research indicating that you can become tolerant to things through ingestion. Even things like lactose intolerance and peanut allergies seem to respond to the slow gradual consumption of tiny amounts.

    Abo4ster, can you describe to us exactly how you prepare/eat the plant for this purpose?
     
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2010
  26. abo4ster

    abo4ster Banned Member Banned

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    I pick a small new growth leaf when they first come out in the spring and place it on my tongue. Chew a little, swallow with water. That's it. I rinse my fingers off after touching.

    I did this once a week for nine weeks. Never had a problem.
     
  27. paulmc13

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    I don't think this sounds like the best idea. It could work though. I think the best way to avoid it is to learn to identify it though. (I've learned from lots of trial and error. ) Now an immunity to mosquito bites... That'd be something.
     
  28. Joe.

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    I didn't read the whole tread, and I apologize for that, but I must chime in as I consider myself a first hand expert on the stuff(pun intended).

    I'm quite susceptible to the stuff. Gotten it without fail for twenty years. So here's the lowdown on what you need to know.

    Identifying the stuff is key, though wont protect you. There are many different varieties with varying attributes but they all have the same basic characteristics. Three leaves extending from the same leafstalk and glossy. There's more but that's all about you will have time to check before you bumble into it.

    There is no cure or way to be immunized. Its an allergic reaction to urushiol oil. Same stuff that's in poison oak and sumac. Like all allergies you can gain and loose sensitivity at any time but there is no way to provoke that intentionally currently known. That being said if the reaction is bad enough there is a steroid to remove the symptoms in days you can get from your doctor. I have been through that and it works. Its a 5 pills first day 4 pills the second etc.. kind of regiment. If you know a way to permanently stop allergies, could you loan me ten million dollars for abit? Its just pocket change.

    The oil penetrates cell walls and binds to them in 20-45 minutes, so you have that long to go rinse off the area using a urushiol solvent soap like tecnu (it really works). If you fail to do that your gonna have it for a couple weeks. Any more than that and its probably a second exposure from shoes, clothing, cat, whatever. Tecnu really becomes important to prevent that. There's also soaps and lotions to put on your skin to prevent it from bonding for about four hours. I have used the stuff and didn't get a rash, but I wasn't looking for the stuff either.

    Poison-ivy is not contagious. If you aren't carrying around the oil with you, it wont affect others. The blisters that form wont spread the urushiol even if they burst. Remember it bonds to cells. Another interesting thing is it can occasionally get into your bloodstream and pop up in other places, but this is rare. The reason why the rash seems to spread is the onset of the reaction is based on how much that patch of skin was exposed. That is to say the less oil got on your skin the longer time it will take to show up. The reaction intensity is a factor of your immune system response in that area as well as how close together granular exposure was, as two tiny drops close to each other will illicit a larger response and make a larger blister. I heard all this before and didn't believe it. So when I got it really bad I let myself itch all I wanted after my first shower. Touched wherever on myself I felt like. The reaction didn't spread.

    Symptom prevention or 'cures' abound and they are all full of crap save for steroids. Drying out your skin will just make it dirty and itchy. Some swear by the tomato/bullion/whatever-fad-it-is bath method, and they are partly right. It makes you want to itch. The desire to itch comes from the body's need to inflict minor surface damage to the area to get whatever is bothering you off your body. This is bad when it comes to blisters. They can become infected and leave plenty of scars until you learn to control yourself (yeah try telling that to your eight year old). What you can do is use hot water to illicit the same reaction, its merely minor surface damage in a different form. Go in the shower and start cranking the hot water up till your just short of burning yourself, be careful now it will be hard to resist come the next step. Pour on that hot shower right on the rash. Instant relief. It can be a euphoric experience I kid you not. You will want to turn the heat up even hotter. What feels like 'ow' to normal skin will be incredibly pleasant on a poison ivy rash. The feeling of relief stays for afew hours after the shower as well. Its worth trying out.

    Poison ivy or urushiol oil is indeed the most potent allergen known to man at the moment. For gods sake don't burn the stuff. Inhaling the smoke can give a reaction that can and has led to death. There has even been a scientist working with a sample nearly 100 years old become 'infected'. Its always there where the plants are, even in the winter. Just like other wilderness dangers there isn't much you can do to completely avoid it, so step lightly in their optimal habitat. Stay aware. And be prepared to deal with it when it comes.
     
  29. Andy

    Andy Scout

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    I just came across this:

    http://www.backpacker.com/community/ask_buck/96

     
  30. Adam B

    Adam B Guide

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    Hey Andy,

    Thanks for posting this. I didn't know of any studies looking at this, so its good to know that it has at least been tried in a placebo controlled fashion.

    I looked the study up and I think it should also be noted, that while its true that the study wasn't able to induce hyporesponsiveness to urushiol, they only tried to desensitize with pentadecylcatechol and heptadecylcatechol. These constitute only a subgroup of the catechols comprising urushiol, but not the whole group.

    I think Buck is right to warn people against trying this, but the study done in 1987 is incomplete in my opinion. Its analogous to seeing if you can give a kid who has allergies to cookies a bunch of butter cookies to desensitize him to a peanut butter cookie you feed him later. It might be that you can't desensitize that way, or it might be that its the peanuts...
     
  31. Trailhawk

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    You could treat ivy-leaf caused skin rashes by applying the juice from its root on the affected skin though. I've seen it done in PI. I would not recommend eating poison to accomplish immunity. Even poisonous critters are not safe from other poisonous ones.
     
  32. Adam B

    Adam B Guide

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    Trailhawk,

    Have you yourself had success treating the rash this way?
     
  33. AlteredMentalStatus

    AlteredMentalStatus Bushmaster Bushclass I

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    no beuno brother!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
     
  34. hog

    hog Guide

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    Just wondering why you would want to do this, perhaps eating dog Poo untill you get used to the taste would fall into the same category. LMFAO.:D:D
     
  35. Creek Walker

    Creek Walker Guide

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    Eat poison Ivy only if you have a death wish as it can cause a potentially fatal allergic reaction.
     
  36. Estela

    Estela Scout

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    Here is another picture of it in one form for reference.

    [​IMG]

    One easy way to identify it is to notice one side of the leaf is smooth and the other is serrated. For knife guys, smooth and serrated are terms easily remembered.
     
  37. Maine Russian

    Maine Russian Tracker

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    Same experience but it didn't take as long. As a kid I could roll in it and never have it affect me while the other kids broke out in serious infections. I never worried when going camping as I got older until one year, suddenly, in my forties, I came down with a case of Poison Ivy. I have had it a few times since and am now (somewhat) careful when going into the outdoors.

    I will not chance eating it at this point I might add.
     
  38. Trailhawk

    Trailhawk Scout

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    No, I must admit, I'm too observant to notice this kind of plant. Not with my friends though. I saw one being treated with the root juice and afterwards he felt alright - the rash and inflammation gone. Folk medicine.
     
  39. Stormrider

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    I think the risk outweighs the possible bennefit. Avoiding poison ivy is something I've done all my life and is no longer that big of a deal to me. A large chance of getting a massive, flaming, possibly fatal rash on my mouth, internal organs and anus is a big deal to me.

    I'm sure it might work, and it's probably not as big of a risk as it sounds...but I'll just pass on this one.
     
  40. 3fires

    3fires Guide

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    i seem to be imune to poiison ivy, but I sure wouldn't be eating any. I read that in Euell's book and think someone was pullin his leg.
     
  41. hog

    hog Guide

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    Not all poison ivy leaves are half serrated, must be more than one variety.
     
  42. GotTreesNowWhat

    GotTreesNowWhat Tinder Gatherer

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    Tried it

    I have a tendency to try things once I get a feel for the broad set of opinions across the internet. One thing I've observed is, not one person has come out and said "Hey guess what, I tried ingesting PI and got a horrible allergic reaction." But plenty of people have said they've tried it and got no reaction. There's a pretty big payback for me if it works, since my back acres are LOADED with the stuff.

    So I took the plunge around noon today - that's almost 11 hours ago in my timezone. No reaction, no discomfort, no problem at all.

    I think I'll try it again tomorrow.
     
  43. BillCr

    BillCr Guide Bushclass I

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    How much did u eat and how?
     
  44. Mholder

    Mholder Tracker

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    I've heard it isn't eating it that is the problem. When it 'hits bottom' those oils are still active, which could lead to an embareassing sit-uation.

    I was wondering about burning the stuff. I've heard that can be bad news, but I would think at some point those oils sould break down. Just wonder howxhot that would be. And really I'm not interested in testing either one.

    Mholder
    Saline County MO
     
  45. Munkey102

    Munkey102 Scout

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    I personally would never eat it. Best to just avoid it.
     
  46. Two Rivers

    Two Rivers Guide

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    Years ago on a camping trip with my Dad and one of his buddies, my Dads friend told of how when they were in the scouts, the scout master had them eat poison ivy leaves for immunity. I never really believed his story and this is this first I've heard it even mentioned since. Think I'll pass.
     
  47. justin_baker

    justin_baker Bushmaster

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    I am immune to poison oak. Laid all in it but never got a reaction. Don't know how I would react to eating it though...
    Also, I wonder if poison oak immunity= poison ivy immunity.
     
  48. Adam B

    Adam B Guide

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    1) Welcome
    2) Are you someone with an established response to poison ivy?
    3) Please keep us informed on how it works.
     
  49. docdiaz

    docdiaz Tracker

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    i am in the medical field and thats just dumb!! LOL
     
  50. R_W

    R_W Guide

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    Not necessarily. Probably, but...

    I get allergy shots for it every year. I still react, but not nearly as bad.

    If you try eating it, MAKE SURE someone knows you are doing it. If you just try it yourself and do have a reaction, you will be dead before they figure out what is wrong and the coroner will put cause of death as anaphylaxix to unknown allergen.
     
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